Branding iron dad mum after jury acquits him of felony charge
Chris Tucker/Copyright 2010 Peninsula Daily News
Mark J. Seamands, right, shakes hands with his lawyer, Loren Oakley of the Clallam County Public Defender's Office, after he was found not guilty of second-degree assault. A mistrial was declared for lesser charges at the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles.
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Sequim resident Seamands, 39, used a branding iron he made with 3-inch-by-3-inch initials "SK" for "Seamands Kids" to burn the brand on his then-13-year-old son's upper chest and then-15-year-old son's left arm on Nov. 25, 2008.
The boys both said they wanted to be branded.
Seamands also branded his then-18-year-old daughter, Paige Davis of Boise, Idaho, on the calf. Since she was old enough to give consent, no charges were filed in her branding.
"I don't have any comment," Seamands said Thursday after hearing the verdict.
If he had been found guilty Seamands, a road construction worker, could have been sentenced to 12 to 14 months in jail.
The two-day Superior Court trial ended with a mistrial on two lesser charges of gross misdemeanor fourth-degree assault when jurors told Judge Brooke S. Taylor they could not reach a verdict.
Second-degree assault is defined as recklessly inflicting substantial bodily harm with intent to do so. Fourth degree assault is an assault that isn't first-, second- or third-degree, according to state statutes.
A group of about a dozen family members clapped their approval upon hearing the not-guilty verdict.
The nine-man, three-woman jury spent nearly seven hours deliberating the charges Thursday after hearing closing arguments Wednesday.
The jury decided that Seamands was not guilty of second-degree assault, then deadlocking six to six on the lesser charges, jury foreman Arlin Lidstrom of Sequim said in an interview.
"The jury had difficulty in determining if the father branding the boys was an assault," Lidstrom said, adding that the jury believed the act of branding was not necessarily an assault.
"[The verdict] was based on the understanding and the evidence brought forth that there was no struggle, it was not done against their will, there was no maliciousness intended and they were careful in putting it all together to do this," Lidstrom added.
"Our definition of assault in the second degree would be like a felony-type thing where it would be similar to, 'I was jumped in an alleyway, held down and they branded me.'"
Seamands had said in an interview with police that led to the charges that branding the "SK" was "a family thing" he did on livestock as a child.
He compared the practice to ear-piercing and said that getting hit with a water balloon "hurts worse."
Seamands said in testimony that he had researched the practice on the Internet, had purchased ointment with advice from a drug store employee to have a friend perform the procedure on himself and had not intended to brand his boys until they insisted he do so.
"It goes without saying that this is a most unusual case with most unusual facts," Judge Taylor had told the jury Wednesday when the testimony portion of the trial concluded.
"Whether this is or is not a crime turns to a large extent on whether the result was disfigurement."
The branding caused second-degree burns and scarring on the boys, testified Dr. Laura Bullen of Peninsula Children's Clinic.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Troberg and lawyer Loren Oakley of the county Public Defender's Office both agreed that Seamands branded his children, but differed in their presentation of the context of the act.
Did not protect children
Troberg had compared what Seamands did to branding livestock, claiming the father acted irresponsibly in not protecting his sons from harm.
"Clearly I'm disappointed," Troberg said, sitting outside the courtroom after the verdict.
"But this is why we have juries. Juries are the conscience of the community. They go a long way to establishing community standards for what is acceptable conduct."
The verdict does not mean that parents have a right to brand their children if their children consent, Troberg said.
"I don't think this jury is giving a broad brush to child branding at all," he added.
"The facts of this specific case are that they did not want to convict him of assault in the second degree."
Oakley, during his own closing arguments, had compared the branding to circumcision and said disfigurement was a relative term.
"Different strokes for different folks," he had told the jury.
The boys were branded "at their request," Oakley said after the trial.
"It has no precedential value for anyone else other than Mr. Seamands in that the second-degree assault charge is over with," he added.
Seamands' daughter Davis and her younger brother said immediately after the verdict they had been confident the jury would find their father innocent.
"I knew this was how it would come out," the younger son said, reiterating from his trial testimony that he had wanted to be branded.
"We were not forced to do it at all," the teenager said.
During the trial, Davis had called the branding an act that was intended to "bond" the family while her father and mother were getting divorced.
The mother was "horrified" her sons were branded, the mother had told police.
A status hearing on the fourth-degree charges against Seamands will be at 1:30 p.m. May 28, though after the trial, Troberg said pursuing those charges may not be worth the monetary cost or in the family's "best interests."
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: May 14. 2010 4:58PM